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Australian tech could triple phone battery life, reduce e-waste

Engineers have developed technology that could extend the lifespan of mobile phone batteries, preventing them from ending up in landfill.

Researchers from Victoria’s RMIT University discovered that by using high-frequency sound waves to remove rust that inhibits battery performance, they could triple the life of batteries.

Amgad Rezk, one of the lead senior researchers, told The New Daily that the ability to quickly restore oxidized materials to an almost pristine state was a “significant development” and represented a game changer in terms of the circular economy.

“Materials used in electronics, including batteries, generally suffer deterioration after two or three years of use due to rust forming,” Dr Rezk said.

“With our method, we can potentially extend the lifetime of battery components by up to three times.”

Dr Amgad Rezk and Hossein Alijani with the rust-busting technology. Photo: RMIT University

The team is working with a nanomaterial called ‘MXene’, a class of materials they say promises to be an exciting alternative to lithium for batteries in the future.

Leslie Yeo, Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and lead senior researcher, said MXene was similar to graphene with high electrical conductivity.

“Unlike graphene, MXenes are highly tailorable and open up a whole range of possible technological applications in the future,” Professor Yeo said.

The big challenge with using MXene was that it rusted easily, thereby inhibiting electrical conductivity and rendering it unusable, he said.

“To overcome this challenge, we discovered that sound waves at a certain frequency remove rust from MXene, restoring it to close to its original state.”

Professor Rezk hopes the innovation means recyclable batteries could last for up to nine years.

This would help address the challenge of electronic waste (e-waste).

E-waste scourge

E-waste is one of the most rapidly growing waste streams in the world.

According to Clean Up Australia, “e-waste is the fastest-growing component of the municipal solid waste stream”, growing at three times the rate of any other waste stream.

Only 10 percent of used hand-held batteries, including for mobile phones, are collected for recycling in Australia, which is low by international standards.

The remaining 90 percent of batteries go to landfill or are disposed of incorrectly.

Globally, e-waste volume is expected to reach 74 million metric tons by 2030, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020, representing an increase of about 21 percent from 2019.

Only one in three Australians have recycled a phone. Photo: Getty

The RMIT team says the next steps include working with industry to integrate its acoustics device into existing manufacturing systems and processes.

The team is also exploring the use of its invention to remove oxide layers from other materials for sensing and renewable energy.

“We are eager to collaborate with industry partners so that our method of rust removal can be scaled up,” Professor Yeo said.

Recycle the right way

The MobileMuster program is a handy way for Australians to recycle their mobile devices and make a positive environmental impact.

The government-accredited initiative is run by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association. It aims to collect and recycle old mobile phones in an environmentally friendly way.

MobileMuster collects all makes and models of mobile phones, including batteries and accessories.

You can drop off your old mobile phones at a drop-off point or send it using a pre-paid satchel.

And if you’re worried about the data left on your phone the MobileMuster website has some videos that take you through the steps to delete or transfer data.